Year 1 of the Joe Moorhead regime saw a lot of wholesale changes to how the offensive line was set up for the Akron Zips, with several entrenched starters defenestrated from their spots in favor of other contributors as the staff tried to find the guys who fit the blocking scheme best.
They’ll still be looking for that perfect combination in 2023, as most of those former starters transferred out in the offseason and other starters brought in have also left.
All-in-all, five players left via transfer (compared to two additions), including former multi-year starter Xavior Gray, while former Penn State Anthony Whigan departed via graduation after a year holding down the line for the Zips.
It leaves the Zips looking for contributors with experience in 2023, which will be hard to do as the roster is currently constructed.
Before getting into who could be in play for those positions, looking at how successful they were in 2022 is necessary for context.
To put it plainly, the 2022 Akron Zips did not have a lot of power to it. They were one of the worst pass-blocking units in the NCAA, with a sack rate of 14.2 percent on obvious passing downs (129th) and 6.9 percent on standard downs, per Football Outsiders. It was an issue all season, as DJ Irons was injured for several games during the season in part due to such wear-and-tear.
Inexplicably, the passing offense despite this issue, finishing 18th in the NCAA with 283.1 yards per game through the air. Their big play ability really saved them at points, especially as the run game continued to struggle. lagging behind at a conference-worst 89.6 yards per game.
Part of the reason for such a bad run game was their stuff rate; Akron was stopped at or behind the line on 18.4 percent of their running snaps, while picking up only 2.64 line yards per play on average. Yet despite all that, their opportunity rate (percent of carries gaining at least four yards when four yards are available) was very good, getting those yards on 48.6 percent of their attempts (54th in the NCAA.) This indicates that with some more time or the right pieces, Akron can find yards on the ground with more regularity.
As Akron continues to rely upon their skill positions to improvise and find yards downfield on the plays which do work, the line will have to put a lot of effort in if they want to win more matchups.
Thankfully, the tank isn’t quite that empty for the Zips as far as potential contributors.
Junior interior lineman Tony Georges is the most important name to return to Akron for the 2023 season, and will occupy the center spot, while fellow junior Alex Robarge will occupy the left guard for the Zips.
Georges, who stands at six-foot-two, 295 lbs., also has starting experience at right guard, which will be something to look for if there’s injuries at the position. He returns the most starts of anyone on the offensive line who was on the Zips roster in 2022.
The interior should be pretty set with the addition of Brian Kilbane, a former Bowling Green Falcon who stands at six-foot-four, 315 lbs. and had eight appearances at the guard spot in 2022 for the Zips.
Nate Williams, a six-foot-six, 300 lb. tackle, also returns at the right tackle spot for Akron, bringing some stability on the outside.
There should be a battle for the left tackle spot and perhaps someone pushing Williams for the right spot as well, given both those places are occupied. Currently, there are a variety of interesting options who could fight for those starting roles, including former Hobart [D-III] tackle Ben Frank.
Frank was a two-year starter in four years at Hobart, with 20 total starts in 23 appearances. He won all-Liberty League second-team honors in his debut 2021 season, while starting all but two games in 2022 due to injury. He’s D-I size for a tackle, standing at six-foot-five, 300 lbs., and could provide some senior leadership for a young room.
It was reported that former Maryland tackle Keon Kindred has also committed to Akron, and confirmed by his Twitter account, but as of publication, he does not appear on the online roster and was not listed on Akron’s latest signing announcement.
Kindred did not play at Maryland after committing there as a three-star prospect, so he brings four years of eligibility with him. Should he be on the roster come the fall, Kindred has an intriguing six-foot-five, 290 lbs. frame which could be molded to start right away given the relative derth of available options.
True freshman Tyhler Williams (six-foot-five, 305 lbs.) and redshirt freshman Nick Stopiak (six-foot-six, 320 lbs.) could be young names to keep an eye on at the guard spots, while Keylen Davis (six-foot-four, 305 lbs.) and Jayvin James (six-foot-six, 280 lbs.) project to be developed as tackles.
Redshirt sophomore Ronan Chambers, who has four starts in 2021 as a left tackle, could also be in the running for the spot once again in 2023 thanks in part to his experience.
There will be plenty of time for the roster to shake itself out (and even time for some late transfers!) but if there is something to look forward to, it’s the continued development of the offense under Moorhead’s leadership. Considering how much it improved from 2021 to 2022, it’s reasonable to assume that a year of familiarity will help the offensive line firm up and be a steadier presence.
This is the third in a series of Akron football previews, with our next piece addressing the defensive front seven. Please look forward to that! If you missed Part 1, you can read that here. Part 2 can be read here.
Akron’s season kicks off Saturday, September 2nd at 2 p.m. Eastern time in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where they are set to play the Temple Owls.